Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Anthony Bourdain Reveals He’s Jewish During Season Premiere in Jerusalem

Celebrity chef and renowned food enthusiast Anthony Bourdain was in Jerusalem for the season premiere of CNN’s ‘Parts Unknown’

By: Graham Sigurdson

Published: September 16th, 2013 in Culture » TV » News

Anthony Bourdain Reveals He's Jewish During Season Premiere in Jerusalem

Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour, and host of No Reservations, The Layover, and now, CNN’s Parts Unknown, recently revealed that the premiere of the show’s second season would take place in Israel, with the renowned foodie visiting Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.

The episode aired last night.

During the show, Bourdain reveals his, until now, unmentioned Jewish heritage, saying “I’ve never been in a synagogue, I don’t believe in a higher power. But that doesn’t make me any less Jewish. I don’t think.”

It doesn’t. You’re still a mensch in our books!

In the episode, Bourdain refers to Israel as “the most contentious piece of real estate in the world.” During a visit to the Western Wall, he dons a tefillin, takes a tour of the Old City with famed chef Yotam Ottolenghi, eats with American-born settlers, speaks with members of a Palestinian race car team in Ramallah, and dines on multiple Palestinian foods in Gaza, including fire-roasted watermelon.

On both No Reservations and the previous season of Parts Unknown, Bourdain visited such diverse locations as Myanmar, the Congo, Libya, Vietnam, and Morocco, but he had never been to Israel. Bourdain said he expected his visit would be “pissing somebody if not everybody off.” He also pondered the age-old philosophical question: “where does falafel come from?”

The show, which is half food and half travelogue – Bourdain characterizes it as a series of ‘stand alone essays’- plays it relatively safe, giving ample time to both Israelis and Palestinians, and not dealing with the history of the conflict to much of any large degree.

Despite not previously having been to Israel, Bourdain has had his fair share of experiences in the Middle East. In 2006, during the filming of the Lebanon episode of No Reservations, he and his film crew found themselves caught in the middle of the Second Lebanon War. Bourdain and co. instead turn the cameras away from the food, and onto themselves, documenting the war’s effects on both them and other stranded tourists. It earned Bourdain an Emmy nomination.

Bourdain told Forbes that he expected the season premier episode to be controversial. Throughout it, he lists the accusations he expects to have hurled at him, including “terrorist sympathizer, Zionist tool, and self-hating Jew.” During the episode, he wears a tefillin at the Western Wall and recites the appropriate blessing. He tells the audience that he had both a Catholic and a Jewish parent, but was raised without religion. He tells his audience that when it comes to Israel, he doesn’t know what to think.

Crossing into the West Bank, Bourdain speaks of how the settlers that live on the other side of the Green Line are in contravention of international, “and in some cases, Israeli” law. At the Eli settlement, Bourdain points out some “Death to Arabs” graffiti. An official tells him it was done by children, and when Bourdain suggests having it removed, the official, noticeably perturbed, agrees.

At Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp, Bourdain comments on the “remarkable number of kids,” being told that two-thirds of the campers are under 18. He speaks of how children are being taught to venerate the pictures of hijackers and political prisoners that cover the area. After viewing a mural of Leila Khaled, hijacker of a TWA plane in 1969, and attempted hijacker of an El Al plane in 1970, he speaks of how the children being exposed to this image is a “recipe for unruly behaviour.”

Bourdain reconvenes with Ottolenghi and they head to the Majda restaurant in Ein Rafa, an Israeli Arab village to the west of Jerusalem. A Jewish-Muslim couple feeds Bourdain fresh vegetarian food and comment on their common backgrounds.

Visiting Gaza, Bourdain notes how Hamas, “considered a terrorist organization by both the US and Israel” was elected in 2006. Laila El-Haddad, author of the The Gaza Kitchen (who lives in Maryland, although this is not mentioned), serves him the Gazan dish maqluba, bringing him fire-roasted watermelon during a community elders meeting.

To finish the episode, Bourdain speaks to Natan Galkowicz, owner of the Mides Brazilian Restaurant in the Negev kibbutz Bror Hayil near the Gaza border, whose daughter was killed by a mortar fired by Hamas in 2005.

“I know that my daughter was killed for no reason, and I know that people on the other side have been killed for no reason,” she tells Bourdain. “Bottom line is, let’s stop with the suffering.”

Upcoming episodes of Parts Unknown will see Bourdain travel to Denmark, Japan, and South Africa.

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